I always wondered what it must have been like to live through the rise of fascism in Europe, especially in the early days. Most didn’t recognize the danger. Many applauded. A few were concerned, but they were seen as panicmongerers or worse, maybe as communists, Bolshevik collaborators, traitors.
And now I am beginning to understand what it must have been like to be one of those Cassandra-like souls.
The far right in Europe is applauding. “Si j’étais américain, je voterais Donald TRUMP,” tweets Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s far right National Front party. “I hope Donald Trump will be the next US President,” chimes in his colleague from Holland, Geert Wilders, who founded the Party of Freedom. People in my country of birth, Hungary, who cheered their prime minister when he erected a razor wire fence along the country’s southern border to keep refugees out, now feel vindicated when they hear Trump talk about a wall along the US Mexico border.
Trump wants to “make America great again” by undermining fundamental constitutional guarantees such as the First Amendment, and by reintroducing torture into America’s arsenal. He is proposing to keep Muslims out and even suggested that Muslims should be registered (just one step short of having them wear visual identification… yellow stars of David, anyone?)
Where will this end? Just how far will the world go this time?
Lest we forget, in the 19th century, Germany was the center of European civilization. The center of culture, music, and science. The country that gave us Gauss, Beethoven, Einstein, Kant or Goethe. Perhaps the most important lesson of Germany is that none of it matters: A horror regime backed by populism and the ideology of fear and hate can arise anywhere.
We have lived mostly in peace since 1945. And those of us lucky enough to have been born in Europe or North America, in unprecedented freedom and prosperity. There are no guarantees that this will last forever. History has not come to an end; we are living it.
And every time I see Trump on CNN, ever time I watch Trump give another election speech, I shudder. Is this it? Is this how Mussolini, Franco, Hitler and others rose to power? Especially Hitler… who, let’s not forget, was Germany’s democratically elected and appointed leader when he assumed the chancellorship on January 30, 1933.
And lest we forget, most of those who supported these horrific regimes denied that they were supporting hate or racism. In fact, they probably rejected any such insinuation indignantly. They weren’t racists… they are trying to defend their nation! Protect its values! They were the smart ones who recognized an existential threat to their culture and way of life; others, who failed to see the coming end of civilization every time they saw a Jewish child were naive fools.
I don’t usually engage in overused comparisons with the Nazis and fascists. But this time, I think the concerns are warranted. Our world is no longer following a path towards greater freedom and more respect for human rights. Walls and fences are being erected everywhere. States once famous for their liberalism are cracking down in the name of fighting terrorism. Europe, which once celebrated the vanishing of internal borders, is in the process of rebuilding them. And the really scary part is… this is what the people want. These measures are popular. Politicians who go against the tide, like Angela Merkel, who promised that Germany would accept as many refugees as it can, are embattled. The nationalist right is rising everywhere. Canada bucked the trend for now, but who knows what happens if Mr. Trudeau loses the next election and the Conservatives return with a vengeance, as the left remains divided.
Know what? I hope I am wrong. I hope I have succumbed to hype and that my views are detached from reality. I hope that Trump doesn’t get elected, or that if he does, he will turn out to be just another crooked and pragmatic politician, one who keeps few of his election promises and one who is more interested in getting re-elected than in plunging the world into some abyss.
Unfortunately, if I am right, it will be too late.
I’ve never been happier that my wife and I were not blessed with children. As we are getting older, we have less and less to worry about. As we have less at stake, we can more and more afford to be just spectators, watching a spectacular train wreck.
It’s not like there’s anything we can do about it.